The Accidental Advocate

I call myself an accidental advocate. I was also a very reluctant survivor because I did NOT feel like I had survived anything when I was dx with cancer at the age of 22, in fact, I felt powerless to the whole process. I felt shame and embarrassment and I never wanted to talk about it. I actually didn’t talk about it for almost a decade! I wanted my cancer gone and I wanted to go on with my life.

Luckily my type of cancer has an early detection test so it was found in the earliest stages during a routine check up. I have experienced some issues resulting from the 2 surgeries and had fertility issues, but I went on with life as usual. (Today I have one biological child and one adopted child and I am blessed it has never come back.)

Many years later when my dad was dx with lung cancer, I thought it would be similar to my own cancer experience.He had went to the doctor the moment he felt “off” and had annual physicals for his job. He was never sick.They must have caught it early, right? Surgery and maybe chemo and he would be fine, right? Wrong.

There are no early signs of lung cancer and no routine early detection test so over 85% of people are diagnosed in the latest stages when its already metastasized outside of the lungs. My dads cancer had moved from his lungs to his cervical bone, his liver and his brain. I became his primary caregiver and he lived 11 months and 21 days. He didn’t have a fighting chance because of the lack of funding and treatment options for his type of cancer. I lost the first man I ever loved. He was the strongest and bravest person I’ve ever known. I miss him everyday.

That was 10 years ago September 2003. Today I am a fierce advocate for people impacted by lung cancer. I work to dispel the misconceptions, fund research and provide support to patients and families with the largest lung cancer foundation in the nation. I left my corporate job to follow this calling to help others. I even became a certified patient navigator! I understand survivorship because I’ve been there as someone who’s had cancer and someone whose lost people she’s loved to it.